Here comes another highly ranked matchup for No. 6 Iowa women's basketball
IOWA CITY — They’ve come up quite frequently, these highly-ranked Big Ten showdowns. And it seems Iowa women’s basketball is the reason for many of them.
The Hawkeyes’ latest difficult task arrives Thursday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where No. 6 Iowa (17-4, 9-1 Big Ten Conference) will meet No. 9 Maryland (18-4, 9-2) at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. This is already Iowa’s sixth game against a ranked opponent, with three more coming later in February.
“When you have a veteran team, they are really able to handle a lot of situations — pressure situations — a little bit better,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “We’ve been in some big games. The more times you’re in these types of situations, it prepares you and you’re even more ready the next time.”
Just as it did when ranked league foes Michigan and Ohio State came calling, Iowa must put its best product on the floor for extended stretches to topple the Terrapins. The Hawkeyes’ last three wins have seen significant adversity weathered, but Iowa certainly doesn’t want to make a habit of that against the league’s other upper-echelon squads.
While this Maryland unit may not be quite as potent as past Terrapin teams, Iowa native Brenda Frese has worked the transfer portal well en route to another successful season.
Despite losing standouts Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu to the transfer portal last offseason, Frese has blended additions from Florida (Lavender Briggs), South Florida (Elisa Pinzan), Vanderbilt (Brinae Alexander) and Princeton (Abby Meyers) with homegrown pieces Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers to create a formidable squad.
“They have a ton of great shooters, but we’ve just got to know personnel,” said guard Molly Davis. “Know who we can and can’t help off of, and find them in transition to slow that 3-ball down.”
If Iowa is to end its four-game losing streak to Maryland, the Hawkeyes will likely have to do it without McKenna Warnock. She remains out with a rib cage injury suffered in Iowa’s win at Michigan State on Jan. 18.
“I don’t have an update (on Warnock). I wish I did,” Bluder said. “She hasn’t practiced yet. I don’t really know what (Thursday) holds. I hope to know a little more after (Wednesday’s) practice, but I don’t know. I’m not sure she’ll be able to play or what percentage that she will be at if she does play.”
Iowa has at least shown it can survive until Warnock returns. But as the calendar flips to February, the Hawkeyes want to be at full strength when the postseason lights start creeping closer. Iowa still has another top-10 showdown at Maryland, plus a home-and-home with No. 5 Indiana. Life in the Big Ten offers little time to breathe.
“It was stressful the first time (there was a big matchup this season) since I hadn’t been in any situation like that before,” said freshman Hannah Stuelke. “… This stage is unlike anything else. Every game, it gets a little less stressful.
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“My teammates help me out with being confident and staying ready and getting better every game.”
That’s what every coach of a veteran team hopes to hear, especially this Iowa group that has so much experience with the Big Ten grind.
After all, the season-defining games are ahead no matter what the rankings look like, and Iowa knows these regular-season showdowns have minimal impact on what will happen next month. As for now, the Hawkeyes must handle one task at a time.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard